Waverley 8 October 2002

by John W Attwood


On a bright sunny morning the small gathering on Tilbury landing stage were disappointed to hear over Waverley’s loudspeakers the announcement that the advertised day’s cruise to Harwich was to be revised. The weather forecast for the afternoon was for winds rising to force 5, which together with the exceptional high spring tide would make landing at Clacton Pier impossible. We were therefore offered the alternative cruise up the Medway returning at 4pm. This had the minor effect of relieving the concern of a few who had noted that a sign on the gates to ferry car park indicated that they were to be locked at 7pm., well before our scheduled coach return. A phone call to friends due to have joined us at Clacton confirmed the fact that the weather was indeed much less favourable on the coast to the north. Work was still underway on the port paddle box, with timber hammer and crowbars in evidence, as we waited wondering if the trip would take place at all.


Departure was delayed about 10 minutes awaiting the late arrival of the replacement Gravesend ferry Princess Pocahontas which would hopefully bring supporters to boost our small passenger complement. Travelling down the Thames it was pleasantly warm on the upper deck and we had the unusual opportunity to take photographs of the twin wake with no passengers on the stern deck. Passengers were picked up at Southend but Waverley was still very under loaded and empty seats greatly outnumbered the passengers in the dining saloon and throughout the vessel. We were unprepared without any maps or knowledge of the Medway, even the map displayed outside the purser’s office showed the Essex coast. It was interesting to view the former naval stronghold of Chatham and dockyard now with a modern marina. We were turned by tug in the Medway opposite the moored Kingswear Castle for our return to Southend. The wind was rising and there was slight rolling during the Thames estuary crossing, enough to make some of the landlubbers pleased not to be venturing on the North Sea to Harwich.


After dropping the Southend passengers Waverley seemed very empty on the return to Tilbury. We went passed the landing stage to a wide point on the river to turn. There was a moderate wind blowing towards the Gravesend bank as we turned and it needed a few astern manoeuvres to just get the bow angled away from the lee shore within the available river width, without much forward motion there being a steady drift towards an unused dockside. We almost were almost clear of the dock when the starboard paddle sponson struck a pile projecting from the dock carrying a fender for the big shipping, causing damage to Waverley’s timber fendering. This brought us to a stop and required a nifty step onto the dockside to attach a stern rope and winch the bow to a sufficiently outward angle for us to continue. Just as we were leaving a lone hard hatted figure appeared from the distant warehouses, presumably to investigate why a vintage steamer was mooring to their wharf. Arriving at Tilbury a few minutes later than our revised time, passengers were still disembarking when the engineers were again at work inside the port paddle. Those of us returning to London took advantage of the free Tilbury Ferry shuttle bus to the station and had a very comfortable ride to Fenchurch Street on the new C2C Electrostar train.


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